First Lady Jill Biden at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. Maya McFadden

First Lady Jill Biden came to New Haven Wednesday and saw some hope on the ​“Horizon” for helping kids catch up after falling behind academically during the pandemic. 

Biden met some future teachers, astronauts, and architects at the newly expanded Horizons summer program housed at Albertus Magnus College to keep K‑3 kids learning during the academic break.

Dozens of New Haven youth showed the FLOTUS and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona the wonders of the Horizons program, which was the pair’s first stop in a multi-state ​“learning tour” the leaders organized to highlight American Rescue Plan-funded summer programs that are targeting helping students make up for lost ground, both in their studies and socially.

For the past two years, Albertus President Marc Camille said, the Horizons program has offered K‑3 students with tuition-free summer enrichment — and has served as an employment opportunity for Albertus students and alum to lead daily programming. The Horizons program engages students in and outside the classrooms with activities like reading sessions, legos, and swimming lessons.

Horizons has worked to address student learning loss at various location for the past 25 years. With the ARP-funded expansion of Horizons to Albertus, the program now has 11 sites throughout the state. A total of 5,700 students participated nationally last year. 

Mayor Justin Elicker and Gov. Ned Lamont welcomed Biden and Cardona to New Haven and joined them for a tour of what the program has to offer. 

“These students are not having that summer slide,” Cardona said while thanking the dozens of local teachers and high school counselors that help run the program. 

Biden and Cardona paid a visit to two classrooms of kids during the Wednesday tour. 

In one room tables of four students each read a book with a high school counselor. The walls were decorated in signage welcoming Biden and Cardona and posters reading, ​“Open your mind, open a book.” 

U.S. Education Secretary Miquel Cardona speaks to students along with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, left, First Lady Jill Biden and Gov. Ned Lamont. Maya McFadden photo.

Students read the books Ish by Peter Reynolds, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, and The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi. 

Some students sat beside Biden and Cardona reading from pages of the books to show off their reading levels. The students caught the visitors up on what happened in the early pages of the books. 

In another classroom students worked with Legos. Students shows off their builds of Hibachi restaurants, cars, and ​“wacky houses” to Biden, Cardona, Elicker, and Lamont. 

During a brief intermission program teachers read to a group of K‑2 students and played Simon ways. 

First-year Horizons teacher Danielle Gayle said she most enjoys helping her second-graders reinforce their math skills to confidently go on to the third grade. ​“I get a lot of joy from them being hopeful,” she said. 

During remarks to the group, Biden stressed the importance of supporting programs like Horizons to assist students learning gaps.

“You guys catch up all of our kids in the most fun way possible,” Biden said of Horizons. 

Students shared with Biden about their favorite activities in the program, which features math, reading, and swimming. 

Horizons students are given a pre-test to see what areas need work and a final assessment to see improvements. The program found that on average student advance 6 – 10 weeks in their reading level. 

The Albertus program currently serves 46 New Haven students, free of cost. Horizons National CEO Lorna Smith said she expects the program enrollment to increase to at least 100 next year. 

Bryce Rose, who is 6, has been at the Horizons program at Albertus for the past two years. His mother, Jacqueline Taylor, told Jill Biden about how the program has made a difference for her son.

Taylor said she has seen her son’s interest in learning improve significantly since last summer. The program also helped Bryce to gain more confidence in his swimming. 

Last summer Taylor, who lives in New Haven, worried she wouldn’t be able to send Bryce to a summer program because ​“everything is so expensive.” She was specifically looking for affordable swimming lessons for Bryce, and a friend suggested she try out Horizons. 

“It has everything, this is the place to be,” Taylor said. ​“We just love it, me and my child.” 

Taylor added that as an Albertus alum who is finishing her final two semesters of a master’s program, she is excited that her son is getting to experience being on a college campus. 

Bryce said he most enjoys swimming and playing with Legos at Horizons. He plans to be a astronaut, police officer, and ice cream man when he grows up. 

This story was originally published July 20, 2022, by the New Haven Independent.